Wood carving in China constitutes three major categories: architecture carving, furniture carving and artworks carving. wood carving as handiworks for display or fondling started from the Song Dynasty when the practice of fondling artworks gradually rose among men of letters and refined scholars.
This prevailing custom reached its climas in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Furnishing artworks are a traditional category in wood carving, which are placed on cabinets, windowsills, tables, shelves, etc. Wood carving can also be used to decorate all sorts of furniture and other artworks such as jade-ware, cloisonné and chinaware.
Wood carving can be seen all over the region on both sides of the Yangtze River where the best known includes the Dongyang wood carving in Zhejiang Province, the golden-lacquer wood carving in Guangdong Province, longan wood carving in Fujian Province and Huizhou wood carving in Anhui Province.
Dongyang County of Zhejiang Province has always been celebrated for being the “home of carving”. Dongyang wood carving started from the Tang Dynasty developed in the Song Dynasty and became popular in the Ming and Qing dynasties. Dongyang carvings preserve the original textures and colors of the wood which, when meticulously polished, make the finished works appear smooth and lustrous. Relief carving is the essence of Dongyang wood carving in which the depth of the patterns rages between two and five millimeters. The centerpiece is focused on by the force of the cutting. The designs of Dongyang wood carving lays stress on “carving all over the background”, which means to have patterns carved over the entire surface of the object so that it has three dimensional display while the background is fully covered. That is a unique artistic style.
Gold lacquer wood carving is a specialty of the Chaozhou region in Guangdong Province, otherwise known as Chaozhou wood carving, so named because of the gold coating on the surface. Gold lacquer wood carving at first was a decorative art used in architecture in ancient China. Later on it was influenced by local art and became a school of wood carving featuring local flavor. In Chaozhou, local people have specially compounded a kind of lacquer which not only enables the gold foil to adhere to the surface of the wood, but also makes it moisture-proof and rot-proof. The history of Chaozhou wood carving can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty and earlier. The Qing Dynasty is the heyday of its development when the fretwork developed from single-layer to multi-layer piercing, producing thus an artistic effect of a strong contrast between far and near, large and small.
Fujian Longan (Euphoria longan, evergreen tree) carving developed from furniture decoration and statue-of Buddha carving, matured around the end of Ming Dynasty and the beginning of Qing Dynasty. Longan is slightly brittle in texture, fine grained, reddish brown in color, mainly growing in the southern area of Fujian Province. The trunk in particular the roots of old-age longan, often grows to be either spectacular or grotesque, which is an ideal wood for engraving. Root carving therefore becomes the unique variety of Fuzhou wood carving. Local artisans, making the best use of its natural shape, by chopping with axe or cutting with chisel, have the twisted roots with their rough nodes carved into all sorts of figures, birds and beasts in shapes vivid and artistically exaggerated. Fuzhou wood carving when smoothed and polished can reveal unsophisticated brass yellow or orange color that will never fade.
Wood used in Huizhou wood carving includes soft or less hard species such as pine, China fir, camphor tree, nanmu, gingko, etx. What Huizhou wood carving stresses is not the quality of wood, but the content of subject matters, the skills at carving, and the perfection of composition and lines, which has exerted a great influence on the surrounding areas. In the Ming and Qing dynasties, Huizhou wood carving is focused on architecture and furniture decoration, well-known for its giant-sized carved paintings whose themes are mostly “men farming and women weaving”, fishing, woodcutting, plowing, studying fairy tales, legends, historical stories, classic novels, and so on and so forth.
source: Chinese Arts and Crafts, published by China International Press
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